Maryteresa Bressler went to college to become a teacher. She now realizes she never got some critical information: how language develops, how to teach the sounds that make up words, how the brain responds to reading.
Those important tools came only "by trial and error during my first four years of teaching first grade," the Baltimore County teacher told the State Board of Education yesterday.
The Middlesex Elementary teacher was testifying at a hearing on proposed reading courses for Maryland teachers. "This course work is long overdue," she said.
More than 40 people spoke out on plans by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and a task force on reading to require four reading courses of Maryland teachers who want to be certified in elementary school education and two courses for those headed for middle and high school. The state now requires only one college reading course.
Critics of the proposal, including some college and university deans, praised the state's push to strengthen reading expertise but said that adding courses was an outdated, ineffective route.
Several called instead for a performance exam that proves graduates can teach reading well, something Grasmick says she favors.
Willis D. Hawley, dean of education at the University of Maryland, College Park, said the plan would fail to hold colleges accountable for graduates' performance, would not address the need to integrate reading instruction in other subjects and would lead to requirements in other subject areas. He said it would unnecessarily increase the cost of becoming a teacher.
"That solution has not worked in the past and will not work now," he said. "This requirement sets a dangerous precedent."
But supporters significantly outnumbered opponents yesterday, and some of the most passionate arguments came from teachers, principals and parents who relayed personal and costly struggles with reading failure.
Teresa Ankney, a Frederick County parent, hired a lawyer to get her son proper reading instruction when the school was unable to address his dyslexia. "I believe you should regulate these institutions of higher education. Why? Because all these years they have not done it on their own," she said.
If the board approves the proposal in June, the courses will affect students in education courses and 47,000 teachers in classrooms. The changes would be phased in but could begin altering the course requirements as early as this fall.
Pub Date: 5/28/98